HomeNFLAtlanta FalconsThe x-factors of the NFL Playoffs. Adam-Rosen January 4, 2013 Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Lists, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, NFL, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins 1 Comment NFL Playoffs: The X-Factor for Each Team The NFL Playoffs is a tricky series of events. Games are won and lost in scenarios that surprise us all. But are they really surprises? These are the x-factors for each playoff team that can tilt the scales in multiple ways. Denver Broncos: Ryan Clady, OT Clady allowed a team-low one sack during the regular season. The Broncos tackle was only penalized for holding just four times. He did an incredible job protecting Peyton Manning’s blind side during the regular season. But come their first playoff game, a divisional match at home on Saturday, Jan. 12, the Broncos offensive line might look a little different. Clady has been held out of practice with a “mysterious” injury, but reports out of Denver are that he should be back on the field when the Broncos’ Super Bowl run begins. A three-time Pro Bowler, Clady has started in all of Denver’s 80 regular season games since he was drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. I’m not going to get into potential offensive lineman replacements, because Bronco fans should not worry, but if Clady’s injury becomes serious, the side that was protected all season long will become exposed when they need Clady the most. New England Patriots: Aqib Talib, CB During the first eight weeks of the season, it was no secret the Patriots secondary was the dead weight. Their Lombardi dreams would have certainly been smushed if changes were not made. Enter the trouble-prone cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib was acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in early November. The addition of the talented Talib turned this defense into a formidable bunch in multipe ways. Most importantly, his debut allowed Devin McCourty to return to his natural cornerback position. Patrick Chung moved back to safety. Kyle Arrington returned to the other starting cornerback position. While Talib is battling a hip injury, a first-round bye will allow him to heal. A week after Talib was injured; the Patriots defense surrendered 41 points to the San Francisco 49ers. So while Tom Brady is the most valuable player on the team, the Patriots will not advance in the playoffs if Talib isn’t on the field. Houston Texans: Owen Daniels, TE We know what Andre Johnson is capable of. We know what Arian Foster can do, but if the Texans offense wants to return to an elite level, Owen Daniels must be a major contributor. In recent weeks, Daniels hasn’t been as involved, catching three passes for 27 yards in each of his last two games. During an eight stretch game this season, Daniels caught eight touchdowns over that span, but he hasn’t found the end zone since Nov. 22. The Texans have a No. 1 running back and a No. 1 wide-receiver. It’s no secret Matt Schaub needs another target. They hope Daniels will step back up. Baltimore Ravens: Dennis Pitta, TE With the recent struggles of wide receiver Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta’s importance vastly increased over the final few weeks of the season. If Smith and Anquan Boldin have trouble performing, Pitta could become the most important receiver in the red zone for quarterback Joe Flacco, who made up for twenty percent of the Ravens’ red-zone targets this season, en route to recording four touchdowns . The window for Flacco to prove he’s capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl championship is closing. Pitta will be a key target for the Ravens in the playoffs, and hopefully, his growth throughout this season will be enough for the Ravens to see future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis end his 17-year career with a Super Bowl championship. Indianapolis Colts: Dwight Freeney, OLB Andrew Luck, no. Vick Ballard, maybe? Dwight Freeney, yes. When the playoffs begin for the Colts, Freeney will be the most important player on the roster. Freeney, was been hampered during the first half of the season by a high sprain to his left ankle, appears to be gathering steam as the playoffs begin. Over the past three games, the Colts’ pass rush has turned up the heat with eight sacks and 13 hits on the quarterback. Opponents have had their quarterbacks holding the ball a bit longer, giving Freeney, Robert Mathis and others a better opportunity to get to the quarterback causing major havoc in the backfield. Freeney may not return to the Colts in 2013. A deep playoff run would be a fitting swan song. Cincinnati Bengals: Geno Atkins, DT In just his third season out of Georgia, Geno Atkins has turned from a solid defensive tackle into one of the most dominant players in the NFL. Atkins finished the regular season with 12.5 sacks. His is one of the several names that have made the Bengals defense dominant, and he might be the best of the bunch. The NFL was put on notice of what Atkins can do this season. On Saturday, the Houston Texans get to see what he can do first hand. Atlanta Falcons: Sean Weatherspoon, OLB In meaningless game, with a meaningful injury, 34-year old John Abraham left week 17’s game on a cart with an ankle injury. Falcons coach Mike Smith stated that Abraham won’t miss time. But he is clearing passing-the-torch of defensive leadership to Spoon. Weatherspoon, had three sacks in the first five games of the season. His charisma made him a natural choice to lead the Falcons linebackers. With the playoffs beckoning, Weatherspoon is preparing his entire unit to ride. His big play ability in tandem with his desire to stick to the core fundamentals of the game gives Atlanta a dependable yet explosive player that must be on his “A”-game for Atlanta to advance to New Orleans. San Fransisco 49ers: Vernon Davis, TE Where in the world is Vernon Davis? Since John Harbaugh announced that both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick were both his starting quarterbacks, but decided to play Kaepernick, Davis hasn’t scored a touchdown since Nov. 19, and has only recorded six catches in his last six games. Kaepernick has a fondness for focusing almost solely on Michael Crabtree. Davis may have been knocked silly against Seattle but he has proven that he is the 49ers strongest offensive asset. Davis and Kaepernick have to get on the same page and fast. Green Bay Packers: Mason Crosby, K Unless the Packers travel to Atlanta, Crosby will be playing exclusively in unfriendly outdoor conditions beginning Sunday in Green Bay. Crosby has endured a disastrous season for the Packers, making only 63.6% of his kicks and hitting only two of nine from beyond 50 yards. If the Packers find themselves in difficult fourth downs in close games, coach Mike McCarthy will have a decision to make. Will he put the game on Crosby’s leg or in the hands of No. 12? Only time will tell. Washington Redskins: Santana Moss WR No longer on top of the depth chart after being pushed in favor of Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan, Santana Moss has emerged as an infrequent and surprisingly unexpected threat. Operating primarily out of the slot and sometimes out wide, Moss saw his most endzone action since 2005. His eight touchdowns are impressive his targets dramtically decreased in 2012-13. If Griffin continues to be limited by a knee injury, Moss may see his activity go up and could be a notable presence for the Redskins. Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Browner, Browner will return during the Wild Card round of the playoffs after a four-game suspension. Concerned that he might be a bit rusty after four weeks away from playing, coach Pete Carroll has not said whether Browner would start, but I don’t see him being on the sideline when the game begins. Carroll told the News Tribune that he is thrilled to have him back. “Getting Brandon Browner back is a big deal to us,” Carroll said. “He’s been a big part of what we’ve done here. And he’s been a significant factor in the style that we play. So he comes back, and we’ll how he does.” Both Browner and fellow starting cornerback Richard Sherman had their positive tests for banned substances leaked following the Seahawks’ Week 12 loss at Miami. Sherman said all along that he believed his suspension would be overturned on appeal and it was. Because of that, the Seahawks will have arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league on the field when the playoffs begin. Minnesota Vikings: Jerome Felton, FB Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season: 1) 2,097 rushing yards, the second-most ever for a running back in a single season. 2) 12 Rushing Touchdowns 3) Peterson became the second player (Earl Campbell, 1980) to rush for 150 or more yards in seven games in an NFL season And if anyone is interested, Felton is a fifth-year fullback who earned a selection to the Pro-Bowl despite touching the ball three times all season. Felton led the way for Peterson setting the key blocks that sprung him into history. If Felton falls off, the Vikings are done. It’s that simple. Gary Bach Love how the X-Factors are no major offensive threat in each game, and it’s always nice seeing some linemen getting ink. Looks like it might be Freeney’s last game as well. This was a nice bounce back year for him. I loved the Talib trade a few weeks ago. Belichick always seems to know how to turn around poor attitudes into good performers. I still like Houston, Balt, Seattle, and GB all to advance this week.